Penn students and alumni joined to discuss what identity and faith meant to them on campus Wednesday night.
The event, titled, "A Conversation on Navigating Identity and Belonging," was hosted by Interfaith Philadelphia in partnership with Penn's Graduate School of Education and Penn's Spiritual and Religious Life Center in Bodek Lounge. It comes amid World Interfaith Harmony Week, which was established by the United Nations' General Assembly in 2010.
Panelists College sophomore Emily Zislis, College senior Max Rothschild, and 2000 College graduate Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad discussed their religious identities and different communities where they found belonging.
Zislis, president of Penn's Buddhism Club and a member of the Reform Jewish Community, said she finds it "challenging" to have conversations about identity at Penn.
“There’s such a pressure to conform to this idea of political correctness, meaning that everyone is constantly almost feeling as if they are stepping on eggshells as they are navigating these conversations in their daily life,” Zislis said.
Following the formal panel, attendees were also invited to participate in small group discussions about various facets of their identities, including nationality, sexuality, and gender.
“To be back home in this sense here and having these conversations and reflecting on identity and belonging really brings home the journey that [identity] is and continues to be for me,” said Mu'Min Rashad, who received a master's degree in education from GSE in 2001. “Being black and Muslim for me growing up, those two identities were always intertwined."
The event is part of Interfaith Philadelphia’s Year of Civil Conversations, a series based on Krista Tippett’s "Civil Conversations Project," which promotes conversations around difficult topics.
Abby Stamelman Hocky, executive director of Interfaith Philadelphia, said in the event introduction that the group was founded 15 years ago in an environment of suspicion following 9/11.
“We and many others took the impulse to lean in and lean close together as opposed to letting those who want to divide us foster fear and division," Stamelman Hocky said.
Interfaith Philadelphia is sponsoring two additional interfaith conversations in March and April, discussing "Challenges to Religious Liberty Today" and "Religion and the Media."
First-year GSE doctoral student Megan MacDonald, who attended the event, said discussing the diversity of faith and identity is crucial.
"I think it’s really great to think about what it looks like to bring people into conversation with each other and to have those conversations rooted in difference and understanding difference," MacDonald said.
The event was co-sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, Penn Treaty Special Services District, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the Michael and Alice Kuhn Foundation.
“I think it’s really important to be able to have conversations like this, especially in a time like this that we are in our country, to be open-minded with one another, to hear one another and to be able to learn from one another and be able to challenge each other,” Rothschild said. “I think all of us being here together really shows that we have the same common goal and that we all really care about faith, no matter what kind of faith that may be.”